London 1978


River Thames, Twickenham, Richmond, 1978
15e34: River Thames, Eel Pie Island, boatyard, children, people

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Children play on the mud in front of some of the boathouses on Eel Pie Island in what is perhaps a slightly distant view, though one that does include the surroundings more than if I had moved closer. The view today hasn't changed greatly, though a closer look shows that the Thames Launch Works whose frontage states they are Ship and Boat Builders and Marine Engineers (though too small to read on this online version) has been replaced by a rather less impressive structure. The island, originally three separate islands, was consolidated into one as Twickenham Ait, but is now universally known as Eel Pie Island.
In my youth Eel Pie Island was noted for the Eel Pie Island Hotel, a musical venue where some of the most famous bands of the era including the Rolling Stones performed, but this had to close in 1967 when the owner couldn't afford repairs. It had a brief re-opening in 1969 as Colonel Barefoot's Rock Garden but was closed down as unsafe. It became home to the UK's largest hippy commune and was then destroyed by a "mysterious" fire in 1971. It wasn't the first fire on the island and there was another in 1996 that caused extensive damage. The hotel was on the opposite side of the island to my picture, and at around the time I took this was being replaced by a riverside development, Aquarius.
The Thames here is tidal, although a minimum water level is maintained by the half-lock at Richmond. Until 1957 when a footbridge was opened the only access to the private island was by boat; the footbridge was damaged by British Gas in 1997 and had to be replaced with a new bridge opening in 1998. At high spring tides the river comes up almost to the bottom of the balustrade at the left of my picture, and Twickenham riverside is flooded, rendering the footbridge inaccessible, so island residents need to keep a copy of the tide tables to hand to know when they can leave or access their homes.
I came to know it a little better when my younger son married a woman who had grown up on the island, in one of the modern houses that were built on the hotel site. They celebrated their wedding (which I photographed) at the Twickenham Rowing Club on the island, the third oldest rowing club on the Thames, founded in 1860. Until 1876 they had a floating boathouse which sank on several occasions.
The balustrade at left is on the edge of York House Gardens. King Louis Philippe I who came to England on his exile from France in 1848 with six sons and four daughters, and fourteen years after his death in 1850 they moved into York House in Twickenham, living there until around the end of the century. His fifth son, Henri, Duc D'Aumale (1822 - 1897) was Twickenham Rowing Club's first President from 1860 to 1897, and presented them with the site on Twickenham Ait in 1876.
When my son visits Eel Pie Island he sometimes swims around the island, although until fairly recently there was a large red sign on a lamp post just behind where I took my picture with the message:

You are advised not to Swim or paddle in the Thames
Due to :    
    Submerged Debris
    Strong Currents
    Sudden Changes in Depth

This sign disappeared, along with a warning sign to drivers showing a car going over the edge when the lamp posts were replaced a few years ago by fake antique versions. Possibly now the river is a little less polluted than it was in my youth, though we used to swim in it back then.